Is getting to the rim as important as before?


Two of today’s top three basketball teams met on Saturday when the Phoenix Suns visited the Nets in Brooklyn. The Suns won, taking their winning streak to 16 games. The Nets, despite the loss, remain atop the Eastern Conference with wins in 12 of their last 15 games. And throughout the game, as they’ve been doing all season, the attacks from both teams continued thanks to a steady diet of mid-range jumpers and floaters. .

These intermediate shots came in part to the detriment of the three – the Nets are 14th and the Suns 25th in 3-point attempt rate – but, more than that, they came at the expense of edge shots. Only the Mavericks took a lower share of their field goals within 4 feet of the basket (24.9%) than Brooklyn (26%) and Phoenix (27.5%), according to Cleaning the Glass.

Both teams’ shooting profiles and their corresponding success reflect a league-wide trend. The average rim frequency this season is the lowest since 2003-04. As recently as 2019-2020, a single NBA team took less than 30% of their shots on the rim. Two years later, there are seven such teams. Five of them – the Suns, Nets, Hawks, Sixers and Heat – rank in the top nine in offensive efficiency with no recovery time.

The Nets can get away with it as they employ arguably the greatest midrange shooter in the history of the sport. One underrated aspect of Kevin Durant’s return from a torn Achilles is that he barely reaches the edge, and that has been underestimated as it hasn’t affected his scoring efficiency at all. Despite the fact that 60% of his career-high 60% of his shots have been rimless 2-point shots – shots that the league collectively shoot at 41% – Durant has a 65% true shot mark that ranks at the top. second in the NBA among non-centers and only personally beaten by his 66.6% clip last season.

Phoenix draws much of his rim attack from center Deandre Ayton, either by diving out of the pick-and-roll or taking advantage of switches, but the team’s ball screen actions are primarily designed to create opportunities for his guards to shoot. -up riders. These guards rarely – and in Chris Paul’s case almost literally never – get to the brink. Paul has taken 214 shots this season and all but eight have come out of the restricted area, which is the lowest rim frequency for a qualifying NBA player. Devin Booker hits the basket at a 27th percentile rate for his position. And they’re the most used players for the league’s sixth-ranked offense.

Sarah Stier / Getty Images

Does reaching the basket just not matter as much as it used to?

Phoenix finished last in the NBA in rim frequency (27.2%) last season and had just two wins before the championship. The next best teams in the Western Conference – the Jazz (29%) and the Clippers (29.4%) – also placed in the bottom five during the regular season. Any of them could have realistically won the title with a better chance of injury, and each of them would have represented an anomaly if they had. The champion with the lowest proportion of shots to the edge in the 19-year-old Cleaning the Glass database was the 2010-11 Mavericks at 30.6%. Even the dynastic Warriors teams who helped shift the paradigm when it comes to so-called playoff-making archery teams have reached the brink far more often.

This is not a treatise on the orthodoxy of modern versus old school basketball. The Moreyball revolution was more than just a 3 point maximization; he also placed emphasis on the free throw circle and line and, more broadly, guided the players to the optimal places on the field for their skills. Paul still took a lot of midrange jumpers in Houston. He’s always been good enough on those shots to make them viable high volume weapons on half court.

Now, at 36, without even the slowest of crosses busting out, Paul leans completely on his mastery from midfield, and he still manages to pull defenses off their base covers in the process. His elbow jumper is still scary enough to force opponents to put two on the ball, even if it means unlocking his surgical pass. His 10.1 assists per game lead the league and is his average in seven years.

It’s also worth noting that the Suns lost last year’s final to a Bucks team who demolished them on the inside, and the Lakers won the title the previous season as the best inside scoring team. of the league in the regular season and playoffs. While the correlation isn’t overwhelmingly strong – Championship teams on average rank 15th in rim frequency – only two teams on record have won everything after finishing in the bottom five. Why, then, are we seeing this league-wide decline?

Rocky Widner / NBA / Getty Images

It’s not that rim shots have become less valuable. On the contrary, a shot at the rim is much more likely to occur today (63.7%) than it was 10 years ago (60.4%). This increase is likely the product of improved ground spacing and increased selectivity. In the past, when teams weren’t chasing 3 points like they do today, seeing extra bodies and arms on the rim might not have deterred a driver or post player from attempting a layup. contested. However, rim assistance is almost always interpreted as an invitation to find the man open on the perimeter. Even the big rolling men are trained to kick the corner rather than trying to force the guards who stop to help on the weak side.

It is not only the crimes that are becoming more and more happy for the riders; it is also the fenders that are becoming more and more concerned with the rim. Teams have become more comfortable conceding long-range shots as the cost of barricading the basket – a defensive tenet popularized by the 2018-19 Bucks and perpetuated (via radically different schemes) by recent iterations of the Raptors and Heat. .

We’ve seen the proliferation of deep drop cover, hyper-aggressive nail aid, and a myriad of zones – patterns designed to force the ball away from the middle of the ground or to channel it. in pockets of space between the 3-point line and an imposing rim protector. Rim shots may have gotten more valuable, but they’ve also gotten less available.

Here’s a look at the trends in the league’s shooting profile over the past five years:

There are indications that the league’s jump shooting habits are starting to stabilize. After a period of precipitous decline, the long-range average frequency stabilized two seasons ago at around 10%. And while the 3-point rate continued to climb, its acceleration slowed. Some of the league’s redistributed rim shots moved beyond the arc, but many simply retreated a step or two towards the short midrange (4-14ft) area, also known as name of “floating scope”. These shots are increasingly popular against today’s defensive schemes.

In 2016-17, an identical proportion of shots came from floating range and long medium range. In the past two seasons, on the other hand, the rate of float attempts has been almost double that of long mid-ranges. This is a fascinating change because in a vacuum, short medium rangers are no more valuable than long medium rangers. In fact, the league has collectively shot both longs better than floats in 10 of the past 12 seasons, including this one. But trying to float comes with benefits that aren’t reflected in the gross field goal percentage.

While short middies once came from tall post-up men, they are now mostly occupied by guards on pick-and-roll drives. And a lot of those guards use the float threat to disguise and open up lob passes for big rollers. Attempts in this area are also much more likely to result in free throws. According to Cleaning the Glass, 727 shooting fouls have been drawn from the float this season, compared to 162 from the long midrange.

Phoenix, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Philly and Miami – the aforementioned quintet of opposing rim teams producing effective attack despite this aversion – are all top 12 clubs in terms of frequency and precision of the floating range, boosted by guards. finesse like Paul, Booker, Trae Young and Tyrese Maxey.

With the exception of the Heat, they are also all superb jumping teams, which makes up for a lot. This means that they can be selective on the shots they take to the edge in a way that other teams cannot. The Nets and Suns have all kinds of counters for drop covers and other paint wrapping schemes. They’re probably the best teams in the league to take what the defenses give them.

Nathaniel S. Butler / NBA / Getty Images

Teams with less shooting capabilities don’t have this luxury. Some have to bang their heads against the wall trying to reach the cup, and their efficiency suffers: six of the top 10 teams in rim frequency this season are in the bottom 10 in field goal percentage. The Suns might not take a ton of hits on the edge, but when they do, they end up. Their dazzling 68.1% basket conversion rate is good for fifth place in the league. Miami and Philly are not far behind.

And these teams are still quite capable of exerting pressure on the rims. It’s just that they tend to do it as a way to open up sharp looks elsewhere, either via drive-and-kicks, or, in the case of the Suns, hopping passes that capitalize on the seriousness of the game. Ayton roll. Not hitting the one-ton basket tends to equate to a low free throw rate, but the Heat, Sixers, and Nets all hit the line with the top six rates.

Of course, these offenses can still be improved. It’s fair, for example, to say that the Suns should look for Ayton on the back of switches more often, and that would make their attack even more effective. It’s fair to expect the Sixers’ shooting profile to change for the better now that Joel Embiid is back. And it’s fair to worry about the Nets’ lack of north-south juice. James Harden was supposed to deliver that, but he’s hitting the basket less often than ever, even compared to the league’s collective out-migration.

Brooklyn doesn’t have a big man like Ayton or even a sharp wing like Mikal Bridges that can take some of the shooting pressure off their two star creators. Unlike the Suns, the Nets don’t effectively end the rare occasions when they go all the way to the basket. (Harden’s struggles, again, are a big factor.) But their collection of shots is so overwhelming it’s easy to imagine them going the distance even if Harden doesn’t fully rebound and Kyrie Irving doesn’t return.

Reaching the rim is obviously still very important, but the way the game has changed offensively and defensively has lowered the threshold for how often a title-contending team needs to get there, placing more emphasis on ability. to control other areas of the soil. Teams with shooting profiles like those in Phoenix and Brooklyn haven’t won everything in the past, but we’re in a different era that could usher in a different kind of champion.


Comments are closed.